Beijing — Chinese development projects in Africa must be sustainable, the government’s top diplomat told senior African ministers on Tuesday, as he denounced “outside forces” that  seek to vilify co-operation by accusing China of creating debt traps.

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $60bn to African nations at a China-Africa summit on co-operation in September, matching the size of funds offered at the previous summit in Johannesburg in 2015.

Beijing has denied engaging in “debt-trap diplomacy” and Xi said in September that government debt from Chinese interest-free loans due by the end of the year would be written off for the poorest African nations.

Chinese state councillor Wang Yi told foreign and other ministers from some 50 African countries in Beijing that his country does not pursue selfish geopolitical gains in Africa and will never impose its will on others. He said China’s approach to co-operation with Africa had been different to that of traditional powers.

“For some time, however, some outside forces have tried to vilify and undermine China-Africa co-operation by cooking up [accusations of] so-called neo-colonialism and debt traps, which are totally groundless and are not accepted by African people,” Wang said.

“Such attempts expose a total lack of respect for Africa, lack of understanding about China, [and] absence of knowledge about the true friendship between China and Africa that has stood the test of time.” 

Joint projects must be sustainable, Wang said. “We need to take forward project co-operation in such a way as to ensure real economic and social benefits and respect market principles.” 

African countries running up debt they won’t be able to pay back, including to China, should not expect to be bailed out by Western-sponsored debt relief, the US’s top Africa diplomat warned on Sunday.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank began the heavily indebted poor countries initiative in 1996 to help the world’s poorest countries clear billions of dollars of unsustainable debt. However, Africa is facing another potential debt crisis, with about 40% of low-income countries in the region now in debt distress or at high risk of it, according to an IMF report released a year ago.

Wang said the world should respect Africa. “The African continent is the independent homeland for the 1.4-billion people of Africa, not a sphere of influence for any major country.”